In Defoe’s book he says: “The upper end of Hand Alley, in Bishopsgate Street, which was then a green field, and was taken in particularly for Bishopsgate parish, though many of the carts out of the city brought their dead thither also, particularly out of the parish of St All-hallows on the Wall.”
There is still a Hand Court in London, near Chancery Lane. As with many streets, the name could have come from a sign. In the days when the majority of people could not read, it was important for shopkeepers to have unequivocal signs (unlike taverns, where memorable and unusual signs were popular).
The hand was often used in conjunction with other items: a hand with a coffee pot was the sign of a coffee house; and hand in a glove meant a glover; and a hand and shears was the sign for a tailor. There were also occasions where the use of a hand on a sign had a special significance.
According to the 19th century writer John Camden Hotten: “where the sign is painted with a woman’s hand in it, ‘tis a bawdy house”.
Signs with a hand and heart, or hand in hand, were common in the Fleet Street of the 18th century, as it was an area with many marriage brokers. The Hand in Hand sign was then adopted by many taverns and it is possible that the court took its name from one such tavern.
There are not many body parts in London street names, but there are a couple, so more of that in a later post.
About Me (and my Obsession)
My obsession with London street names began in the early 90s when I worked in the Smithfield area and happened upon Bleeding Heart Yard. In my wanderings around London, I kept adding to my store of weird and wonderful street names. Eventually it was time to share – hence my blog. I hope you enjoy these names as much as I do.
- London’s lost rivers: Hanging Sword Alley, Crane Court, and Wine Office Court
- Fox and Knot: murder and pub signs in London street names
- Poultry and Hen and Chickens Court – names for National Poultry Day
- Greenberry Street and Red Lion Square: street names for St Patrick’s Day and Red Nose Day
- Bleeding Heart Yard: revisiting (and debunking) old favourites
3 responses to “Hand Court, shop signs and plague pits”
Great stuff as always. It is wonderful to keep all these ancient origins alive, and to educate us all about the meanings and derivations of these names and signs.
Best wishes from Norfolk. Pete.
Reblogged this on Ace British History News .
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